Welcome to this gastro journey where we'll be traveling together through the Northern slopes of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, discovering the importance of its Contrade (Cru sites). Etna has a climate that brings a unique alchemy able to craft the finest wines in Sicily: volcanic soils rich in minerals, saline winds that blow from the Mediterranean Sea, dramatic changes in temperature between day and night; and century-old vineyards some dating back to pre-phylloxera times. The area where the vineyards are concentrated should also not be underestimated, since some are found at 1100 meters of altitude!
Northern Etna's Contrade
Below we leave you with a series of photos that will transport you to these landscapes, as well as the technical descriptions of the wines:
1. Minella Bianca, 2011, Azienda Vinicola Calabretta:
80 to 100+ years old vines rooted in volcanic and gravelly soil, growing at an altitude of 750 m. Simplicity is its strength. It's a varietal wine (citric, green fruits, and mountain flowers) with a subtle sulfurous character that dances along with its crunchy minerality: De-stemming, soft pressing, and spontaneous fermentation in steel tanks.
2. Carricante, Sto. Spirito, 2020, Tenuta delle Terre Nere:
Carricante in purity grows in deep, soft, and dark volcanic soils that are rich in volcanic ashes at 700 to 750m above sea level. Soft pressing, low-temperature fermentation in French oak barrels (5 and 10 hl). Malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak barriques for 10 months.
Fascinating tension between the smoky minerality and its citrus character (everything from blossoms to dried peel). Mediterranean scrub, wet stone, and hazelnut aromas emerge from the glass along with a whiff of white stone fruit. On the linear, savory palate, fresh acidity and saline mineral notes lend tension to a firm structure with a long finish, as clear as a mountain stream!
3. 94% Nerello Mascalese, 6% Nerello Cappuccio, 'a Rina, 2018, Girolamo Russo:
A' Rina is Russo’s estate red blend sourced from different Cru vineyards located in San Lorenzo, Calderara Sottana, and Feudo di Mezzo. The vineyards are high up, between 650 and 780 meters above sea level, and many of the free-standing bush vines are over 80 years old, surviving in Etna’s black, mineral-rich volcanic soils. The wines from the different vineyards ferment separately in stainless steel and open vats, to then be aged for 12 months in a mix of old barrels and concrete tanks.
It drinks like a very complex Pinot Noir, with the firm mineral backbone that only a volcanic terroir can deliver. Notes of cranberry, strawberry, plums, and a touch of tobacco leaves. The palate is both generous and lean with a firm Nebbiolo-like structure, and flavors of pomegranate, prunes, and white pepper.
4. Nerello Mascalese, Munjebel Rosso, 2015, Frank Cornelissen:
These Nerello grapes are sourced from 60+ year old vines, sourced from a variety of different Crus including Chiusa Spagnolo, Monte Colla, Porcaria, and Barbabecchi. The grapes are de-stemmed & slightly pressed. Fermentation started with a “pied-de-cuve” using only indigenous yeasts and the maceration on the skins lasted for about 50 days before aging in neutral epoxy tanks from 2500 liters to 7000 liters for about 12 months.
This is an elegant and focused wine with a vibrant core of fresh red fruit and mineral streaks across the palate. The nose opens up with sulfurous and sticky bacon nuances prior to developing aromas of fresh red fruit, mineral notes, and light nuances of medicinal and aromatic herbs.
5. Nerello Mascalese, Moganazzi, 2018, Tenuta delle Terre Nere:
40 to 100 years old vines from just a 2 ha vineyard in the Contrada Moganazzi over not too deep soils, a mix of volcanic ashes and pebbles, at an altitude of 700 to 750 meters above sea level. The wine ferments spontaneously and ages for 18 months in big French tonneaux (10 to 30 hl).
The wine is brilliant: tightly woven texture, with a luminous and athletic character, a youthful grip, and all the effortless beauty of a Greek sculpture. With age, the wine’s fine tannins give way to a soft suppleness, a sustained sunset richness; more intimate and resounding.
6. Nerello Cappuccio, 2012, Azienda Vinicola Calabretta:
This reasonably young vineyard is grown on volcanic soils based on sand mixed with stones in the district of Calderara in Randazzo, at 750 meters above sea level. Spontaneously fermented in stainless steel with constant pump-overs made only by hand. Elévage takes place in a combo of used barriques and stainless steel tanks for 6 months. These two wines are then blended into 12 hl botti for an additional 6 months prior to bottling.
Nerello Cappuccio di Calabretta is a full and elegant red wine, with a velvety tannic texture. It reveals an important structure that is loaded with minerality and freshness that gives it dynamism at the same time. There are dark red fruits, smoke, lavender, violets, and a saline finish.
Azienda Vinicola Calabretta
Tenute delle Terre Nere